December Holidays

From KRP’s The Ultimate Holiday Activity Guide. Here are four different holidays that are observed in the month of December.

Hanukkah (cultural/religious)  Hanukkah is the Jewish Feast of Lights, or Feast of Dedication. It begins on the evening of the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev (about December) and lasts eight days. Hanukkah commemorates the victory of the Maccabees (led by Judah) over the Hellenistic Syrians in a famous revolt. While the victory itself was considered miraculous, Jewish legend provides another explanation for Hanukkah rituals, the most important of which is candle lighting. According to legend, when the Maccabees reclaimed the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, it had to be rededicated. But there was only one jar of sacramental oil enough for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, from which the eight days of Hanukkah was derived.

The Jews observe many traditions during Hanukkah, including eating foods fried in oil, playing the dreidel game, and giving gifts or (money) to children.  Ask students to compare and contrast Hanukkah to Christmas or another winter holiday. Have them make a comparison chart illustrated with pictures and graphics cut out of the newspaper.

The menorah is a special candleholder that holds nine candles; one for each of the eight days of Hanukkah and a ninth candle called the shamas. The shamas is lit every night and used to light each of the other candles, one each day. Send students on a search for menorahs in newspaper advertisements. Have them make a menorah poster with information about this important Jewish ritual.

Have students find out how the dreidel game is played. Then have them write a how-to story for the school newspaper. Ask:  Can you think of games we play in observance of other holidays? Discuss.

Christmas (federal, cultural/religious)  The most popular of Christian observances is Christmas, a festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, founder of the Christian faith. Although no one knows the exact date of Jesus’ birth, most Christians celebrate on Dec. 25. Christmas is celebrated throughout the world. In the United States it is one of the most joyous times of the year. People decorate their homes and Christmas trees. They sing Christmas carols, attend church services, send cards, feast with family and friends, and exchange gifts.

Many of the Christmas traditions observed in the United States originated in other countries. In small groups, have students find newspaper datelines for five countries that celebrate Christmas. Then have them conduct research to see if any American Christmas traditions originated in those countries. Allow a spokesperson to report each group’s findings.

Have students cut out words, graphics, and pictures from the newspaper that symbolize Christmas. They can use the cutouts to create their own Christmas cards.

Since Christmas is one of the busiest and most hectic times of the year, have students write a letter of advice to someone who wants to know how to slow down and enjoy the holiday. Point out your newspaper’s advice column beforehand.

Kwanzaa (Dec. 26-Jan. 1, cultural/religious)  Many of the traditions observed by African-Americans today have roots in African culture. The seven-day festival known as Kwanzaa is one of them. This holiday is widely celebrated by African-Americans each year and is based on the traditional African festival of the first crops. M. Ron Karenga first introduced Kwanzaa to the United States in 1966. It combines traditional African practices with African-American ideals. The holiday centers on the Nguzo Saba, seven principles of black culture developed by Karenga. Each evening during Kwanzaa, family members light one of the seven candles in a kinara (candleholder), discuss the principle for that day, and sometimes exchange small gifts. Near the end of the holiday, the community gathers for karamu – a feast of traditional African food.

Plan a Kwanzaa feast for your class. Assign each student a traditional African-American food to bring. After they taste-test each item, have students write a newspaper-style review of their favorite African-American delicacy.

Tell students about the seven principles of Kwanzaa: Umoja (unity); Kujichagulia (self-determination); Ujima (collective economics); Ujamaa (cooperative economics); Nia (purpose); Kuumba (creativity); and Imani (faith). Have them illustrate their understanding of these principles by finding newspaper examples of them in action. They can make a poster or bulletin board display with their findings.

Boxing Day (Information is from

Boxing Day takes place on December 26th or the following Monday if December 26 falls on a Saturday or Sunday.

Boxing Day began in England, in the middle of the nineteenth century, under Queen Victoria. Boxing Day, also known as St. Stephen’s Day, was a way for the upper class to give gifts of cash, or other goods, to those of the lower classes.

Boxing Day is celebrated in Australia, Britain, New Zealand, and Canada.

There seems to be two theories on the origin of Boxing Day and why it is celebrated. The first is that centuries ago, on the day after Christmas, members of the merchant class would give boxes containing food and fruit, clothing, and/or money to trades people and servants. The gifts were an expression of gratitude much like when people receive bonuses, from their employer, for a job well done, today. These gifts, given in boxes, gave the holiday it’s name, “Boxing Day”.

The second thought is that Boxing Day comes from the tradition of opening the alms boxes placed in churches over the Christmas season. The contents thereof which were distributed amongst the poor, by the clergy, the day after Christmas.